People victims of old-styled, superpower politics, former British ambassador says
By ESTANISLAO OZIEWICZ in Globe and Mail
With Uzbekistan’s expulsion of NATO, its break with the United States and its recent signing of a defence pact with Russia, the most populous and heavily armed country in Central Asia has now completely switched strategic horses.
“The disaster, of course, is for the poor people of Uzbekistan, who are living in grinding, worsening poverty and with no freedom,” said Craig Murray, the former British ambassador who was removed from his post a year ago after his internal criticism of human-rights abuses in the former Soviet republic became public. “They are the victims of classic, old-fashioned, superpower politics, with the United States, Russia and to a lesser extent China, competing for influence in the region, just like Cold War times.”
Uzbekistan this week told NATO allies that they must withdraw troops and stop using Uzbek airspace by Jan. 1. On Monday, the U.S. military flew its last plane out from an air base in Uzbekistan that had been an important hub for operations in Afghanistan.
All the while Tashkent was nudging closer to Moscow, where Russian President Vladmir Putin has accepted his Uzbekistan counterpart’s insistence that in his regime’s bloody crackdown in the eastern city of Andijan last May, he was merely putting down a revolt led by Islamic militants. Earlier this month, the two countries signed an agreement that allows for Russian military deployment in the Central Asian nation.
A glaring spotlight was put on the West’s relationship with President Islam Karimov during the Andijan crackdown. Earlier this week, the United Nations urged Uzbekistan to stop harassing eyewitnesses to the Andijan suppression and expressed regret that Tashkent has rejected repeated calls by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour for an independent inquiry.
Last week, the European Union banned 12 Uzbek officials from entering Europe because of their involvement in the Andijan crackdown. Earlier, the EU had imposed an arms embargo on Uzbekistan and suspended a co-operation pact.
Mr. Murray, who has since resigned from the foreign service, has kept up a barrage of criticism of Mr. Karimov’s harsh, dictatorial regime and of the policies that underlined Washington’s alliance with Tashkent after Sept. 11, 2001.
He said it was clear from the start that Mr. Karimov’s dalliance with Western economic liberalization would not last long under his totalitarian approach.
“The switching of alliance was an inevitable consequence of the decision not to go to capitalism. That’s what drives it all, rather than short-term events like Andijan or individual spats over UN resolutions.”
Mr. Murray acknowledges some satisfaction that his criticisms of Mr. Karimov and of the approach by Washington and London proved correct.
“The policies were so stupid, so obviously wrong and it seemed to be founded, to some extent, on self-delusion. I think that the Americans had managed to convince themselves – against all the evidence – that Karimov was a reformer.”
By Andrew Stroehlein in European Voice
Uzbekistan Interior Minister Zakirjon Almatov is currently on an extended visit to Germany. Nothing strange or particularly newsworthy about that, you might think – until you realise that Almatov has been declared persona non grata by the EU. He is officially prohibited from visiting the EU, and yet, he is here all the same.
On 14 November, the Council issued travel bans on 12 Uzbek officials “directly responsible for the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force” in the massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters in the east Uzbekistan city of Andijan on 13 May, 2005. The name Zakirjon Almatov tops the EU’s travel blacklist.
The German Foreign Ministry defends its decision to allow Almatov to stay in the country despite the visa ban against him, saying it is acting “on humanitarian grounds”, because he is receiving medical treatment at a clinic in Hanover. That must seem a cruel joke to the victims of the Andijan massacre. They know Almatov as “The Butcher of Andijan”, a man who showed little humanity as he told protesters there would be no negotiations just before government troops started firing into the crowd.
The Andijan massacre’s victims include not only those murdered in May but also witnesses and their families, who continue to face harassment from the Uzbek authorities anxious to silence them and, as documented in September reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, enforce their version of history. The Uzbek government would like the world to believe Andijan was the start of an attempted “Islamist insurgency” and they’ve been going through a lot of trouble trying to get that point across. Running propaganda films at their embassies worldwide has been the least of it.
The authorities have tortured confessions out of supposed insurgents as part of a completely choreographed Stalinist-style show trial that concluded last week with, to no one’s surprise, fifteen out of fifteen convictions and the government’s version of events fully upheld. In an apparent prelude to a second show-trial, they have also denounced a number of domestic and foreign journalists on national television for their part in the grand plot to overthrow the state.
The Uzbek security services have continued to pursue and harass refugees who were forced to leave the country after Andijan. A few hundred are now safe in camps in Romania, but as many as 2,000 more remain at risk just across the Uzbek border in Kyrgyzstan.
Perhaps the new German government will take into account some of these victims and consider dealing with them on humanitarian grounds rather than favouring their oppressors. The whole point of visa bans, after all, is to punish elites by denying them the sort of luxuries they enjoy. This sort of high-quality healthcare in particular is something they cannot get in their own countries and exempting it utterly defeats the point of sanctions.
The Council’s decree was an admirable move. Along with the visa ban, it declared an embargo on “arms, military equipment and other equipment that might be used for internal repression”. The travel and trade restrictions will be in place for one year, when the Council will look at Tashkent’s progress on several human rights issues, including the outcome of an independent, international inquiry into the events in Andijan – an idea Uzbekistan has consistently rejected. Yes, the EU decree came embarrassingly late and the list of twelve officials rather oddly omits the authoritarian regime’s ruler, President Islam Karimov, but generally it represented a positive step.
However, what good is Europe’s principled decree if it is openly flouted from the very day it is made?
Germany has a military base in Termez, Uzbekistan, but while that might have been an excuse to avoid agreement on European measures in the first place, surely it cannot be used to justify the hypocrisy of announcing restrictions and contravening them at the same time. If Germany has sacrificed its principles to maintain Termez, it hardly seems worth it: to support German troops in Afghanistan, they could easily operate through Manas, Kyrgyzstan, or indeed Bagram, Afghanistan.
A spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said of Germany’s decision to let Almatov stay: “We don’t see a problem.” If they truly fail to see the problem with breaking rules as they are making them, then Berlin and Brussels must be blind.
From Muslim Uzbekistan
General Z.Almatov was the key person along with Islam Karimov in Andijan bloodshed / The German Air Force will continue using Uzbek territory for providing support to operations in Afghanistan, the German Embassy in Tashkent was quoted by Interfax on Thursday.
“The German Air Force is using the airport of the Uzbek town of Termez on regular terms,” an embassy source said.
The embassy denied reports that the Uzbek authorities had officially banned Germany from using Uzbek airspace. “This information can be qualified as rumors,” the source said.
An Uzbek Foreign Ministry source also confirmed to Interfax that German servicemen are continuing to use the Termez airport, which is located close to the Afghan border, to support the antiterrorist coalition’s activity in southern Uzbekistan.
“No warnings were issued to Germany on this account. Such notes were sent to the embassies of Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Sweden,” the ministry source said.
A high-ranking source from the NATO headquarters was cited on November 23 as saying that Uzbekistan had banned the NATO member-states to use its airspace. Furthermore, the source was reported to say that such notifications were sent particularly to Germany, Spain and Belgium.
On November 14 the European Union decided to impose a travel ban to the EU on 12 Uzbek officials and an arms embargo due to the refusal by Uzbek authorities to allow an international inquiry into the events in May in the city of Andijan. The list included the interior minister Zakirjan Almatov who is directly responsible along with Islam Karimov for the Andijan massacre.
However, nowadays Almatov receives treatment in Hanover, Germany.
According to Uzland.Info Almatov was granted a visa to Germany from the second attempt. At first Germany reportedly refused but after Uzbekistan threatened it with withdrawal of its military units in Termez they allowed massacre minister to get treatment.